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Everything you should know about the Facebook board that just ruled on Trump’s banishment

May 5, 2021, 8:18 PM UTC


Facebook’s Oversight Board made its biggest decision yet on Wednesday in ruling that the social network’s suspension of former President Donald Trump was justified—though it said the “indefinite suspension” wasn’t.

The decision, corresponding policy recommendations, and the explanation of the ruling outline how the board will likely govern in the future—it often errs on the side of free speech. It also provides a road map for how experts believe the service can create more transparent and fair policies to manage future issues.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg first announced plans to create the board, a Supreme Court for content-moderation disputes, in 2018. The idea was to create a way for users to appeal decisions made by Facebook staffers to an “independent” group of experts. 

Since then, Facebook’s Oversight Board has ruled on nine cases and offered a number of policy recommendations intended to improve how the service moderates content. Here’s everything to know about the board. 

How does it work?

The board reviews cases submitted both by users who have exhausted the appeals process on Facebook and Instagram, as well as cases submitted by the company.

From the submissions it receives, the board selects cases that will have the largest implications on other cases or on Facebook’s policies. The board’s ultimate duty is to decide whether posts violated Facebook’s content policies. It can also recommend that Facebook change or clarify its policies based on its findings. 

The board then assigns a panel of five board members to review the case. Users whose cases are selected for review can submit materials making their argument for why their posts should be reinstated.

The board has 90 days from the day the case is selected to make a decision. Once a ruling has been made, the board publishes its decision, the rationale behind the decision, and any policy recommendations it develops.

Does Facebook have to abide by the board’s decisions?

All the board’s decisions are “binding,” according to Facebook and the board, and Facebook has seven days to implement any rulings after a decision is announced. The only exception is if the implementation could violate the law. 

But the board’s policy recommendations are optional, and Facebook has 30 days to publicly respond to the suggestions. Facebook also must publish what actions it took in response to the board’s ruling and suggestions.

Who’s on the board?

The board comprises 20 outside experts and civic leaders who have a broad range of expertise. Thomas Hughes, formerly executive director of Article 19, a British media-rights organization, leads the board’s administration. Some of the board’s members include Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Denmark’s former Prime Minister; Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakkol Karman, who was honored for her work in democracy and human rights in Yemen; and Maina Kiai, the founding director of Human Rights Watch’s Alliances and Partnerships Program in Kenya.

The board also includes academics such as Michael McConnell, the director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford University’s law school; Katherine Chen, a professor at National Chengchi University in Taiwan; and Ronaldo Lemos, a professor at Rio de Janeiro State University’s law school in Brazil. 

Is the board truly independent? 

Facebook considers the board to be an entity independent of the company and says all of its decisions are made without oversight from Facebook. While the board is made up of outsiders, its structure makes its independence less clear. The board is employed by the Oversight Board LLC, an entity created to operate separate from Facebook. The LLC has trustees who oversee the financing of the board and are responsible for maintaining the board’s independence.

However, the LLC is ultimately dependent on Facebook for its financing. In 2019, Facebook committed to fund the organization with $130 million over six years. 

What decisions has the board made? 

Since taking its first cases in December, the Oversight Board has ruled on 10 cases, from hate speech in Myanmar to adult nudity in Brazil to health misinformation in France. The board has overturned six Facebook decisions to remove content while upholding three other decisions. The board was unable to review one of the cases, as the user deleted the post. In terms of recommendations, the board has also made nearly 30 policy recommendations to Facebook, nine of which came from the ruling of Trump’s case. 

Facebook says it has implemented all the decisions. The company has also committed to implementing at least 12 of the board’s policy recommendations.

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